Monday, March 24, 2008

An Abundance of Allergies

I've had allergies about as far back as I can remember, well at least as far back as 2nd grade. I remember having the skin on my eye lids flake. I wasn't sure why this would happen. I went to the doctor and he told me it might help not to use finger nail polish or anything with perfume in it. That didn't last long, but it's still a distinct memory. I also remember having watery/itchy eyes and sneezing a lot. I have a class picture of everyone smiling happily into the sunlight. I'm smiling too, but my eyes are as red as can be and I look like it's painful for me to face the sun. I remember that paradox of loving the feeling of the sunshine, but rejecting the pain it was causing my eyes to feel that bright light.

So many of the allergy medications that are over the counter now were my prescriptions growing up - - Actifed, Dimetapp, Benedryl, Sudafed, Afrin nose drops. I can't remember the name of the eye drops I took, but they were in a dark bottle with a dropper and felt WONDERFUL to take.

I remember how groggy I felt when I was on antihistimines, but taking them was a way of life during the spring. When I was 28 years old, I recall listening to the radio and hearing about a new antihistimine that would be released that year called Loratadine, which did not cause drowsiness. That sounded like heaven to me (and was later known under it's brand name, Claritin). I was sad to find out that Claritin wasn't quite tough enough to really make an impact on my allergies, but it was a start.

Later a doctor told me I could take a nasal steroid inhaler much like an asthma inhaler to help my allergies. I took it for a few years and it was helpful. But since it was a steroid and took a few weeks to get into my system to be effective and had to be maintained, it was hard to determine if I still needed it a month or two later. If the allergens were gone and I was still taking it needlessly, I couldn't tell. If I stopped taking it to test it out, and found I still had allergies, it would take another 2 weeks for it to start working again. It wasn't until I heard a report that repeated use of this drug could cause holes in the nasal membrane that I decided to quit using it.

I took my share of asthma medications too. I never had asthma as a child, but developed it when I was in high school. It was mostly allergy induced and we lived amongst grassy fields. Sometimes my mom would drive me into town during the night when I wasn't breathing well and would have me spend the night at my grandma's house. The change in environment would make a difference. Oft times I'd drive home from high school and as soon as I'd get to the "valley" where it was more rural, my air paths would close up. So I took albuterol, steroids, Theodur pills, and drank a lot of ice water trying to sooth my air paths.

This went on throughout my life, except for my college years. I wasn't allergic to Utah. My body seemed to like the desert, even though my heart missed the ocean, the redwood trees and the green lush terrain. I did develop some eczema the last year there though that continued bothering me for another 20 years.

In 1994, we moved to our current spot on the earth where it's misty and green almost year round. It's beautiful and the air is clean and crisp, but we have an allergy season that's not just 3 months out of the year -- it's more like 9 months with a few minor breaks. This was incredibly taxing on my body for several years. There were times when I was pregnant that I wasn't advised to take antihistimines the first few months. I tried herbs, which offered limited relief. I suffered night after night . Nights are always the worst -- for allergies and asthma. I don't know how many times I've gone into the doctor to get help for my asthma and they listen to me breathe and tell me I sound pretty good. I think "You should have seen me last night!"

I could tell you story after story of the severity of it all -- of doctors saying I shouldn't let it get so bad, that it can be life threatening, where I've wondered how I could get my next breath - -or of doctors telling me that the levels of medication I was taking could be eating away at my bone marrow and causing other problems I didn't really want to face. I could tell you about the needle pokes in my arms to determine my allergies and allergy shots for over 3 years. That did nothing but give me swollen shoulder muscles as hard as a golf ball. I remember trying to play my piano lesson with ice on my arm it would burned so bad. Later in life, people told me that allergy shots had improved. Some said nothing had changed -- they worked for some, not for others.

I came to the point of questioning. Did I want to live the rest of my life this way? Did I want to move my family, who seem to love living here? -- (and if so, where? I did internet searches and conducted forum polls on where to live allergy free - - we looked into Utah again, but their air quality has gone downhill since I've lived there and I didn't know what that might do to my asthma since the smog gave me problems while living in L.A.) What if there was some national crisis or even local one and I wasn't able to get any medication for a month or more? Would I be able to function? Would I be able to care for my family? Why would God send us to live dependent upon man-made medication? It just didn't make sense to me.

I decided to see what I could do from the inside out. I decided to experiment with giving up Dairy. I loved milk, ice cream, and cheese, but was willing to give it up if it meant I could live without all the suffering throughout the year. It made a huge difference. Sometimes I'd question if just a little dairy (piece of pizza, just one ice cream cone) would bother me and within the hour, I'd be sneezing, itching, and having throbbing in my nasal cavities. Once I had these symptoms from driving home from Costco with a pizza in the car. Maybe it wasn't the case, but I was convinced that inhaling that fabulous smell for that 1/2 hour caused me problems.

As time passed, going without dairy was helpful, but didn't rid me of my allergies and asthma completely. So I looked into eating raw foods and taking bee pollen. Both were miraculous. I'm not always 100% with raw foods, so the bee pollen is a great supplement to keep me strong and defensive against the allergens. Once I went camping and the bee pollen (which needs to be refrigerated and was in the cooler) became wet and was ruined. So I didn't get to take it on the last day. I was okay because we were about 3 hours from home. But as soon as we drove back into our valley, my asthma acted up and my eyes started itching. I took some bee pollen that night and the next morning. By the next day, my asthma and allergies were gone again.

I'll have to write a whole post about bee pollen. (Edited to add -- I have -- here's the link for my bee pollen post). It's a wonder food and is interesting to learn about. I wondered if I could just go scrape it off of our car windows and eat that instead, but I'm sure there's dust and who knows what else on that - -I'll just go with what I find at the health food store.

One final story -- When I was expecting my last baby, I went through that first trimester w/o antihistimines, having a horrible time with allergies. We'd planned a month-long car trip to the midwest from the California coast. It took me 3 days of driving (or hitting the Wyoming desert) before I could breathe clearly and felt healthy and human again. I enjoyed the rest of our trip - - driving through 9 states and feeling wonderful. As we drove down the mountain towards our home, my ears, eyes, and nose started itching. My nose started to run. My eyes watered. And I realized, I've been all across the country and I'm allergic to where I live! But I've since learned that I can live anywhere I want and be allergy and asthma free. And I don't need to be on ANY medication -- preventative steroids that damage my body or rescue inhalers, antihistimines or herbs. Sure, it might seem like it's not as fun to not eat like I used to eat, but was it any fun to live with allergies my whole life? Not really. This is so much better. I'm so grateful for the knowledge I now have about nutrition and truly feeding my body to be strong. And I seek strength daily so I can bend my will to the truths that I now understand.

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